Political rebuilding proves hard for Jerry Brown

In the wake of his lackluster run for president, California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. finds political rebuilding a troublesome effort. Having recently audited his campaign spending records and found undocumented expenditures as well as an overdrawn matching funds account, the Federal Election Commission has presented him with a bill for more than $72,000.

Perhaps more serious, Mr. Brown's attempts to home an efficient political organization has brought recent charges that he has been using public employees and government computer equipment for strictly partisan purposes. The charges are doubly embarrassing since he rode the crest of a campaign reform plank to narrowly win the state's top post six years ago.

Brown first described as "a canard, barely worthy of comment" reports in the Los Angeles Times that he had spent state funds to gather lists of political supporters and contributors and to set up a computer mailing system in his capitol office to make use of the lists.

The newspaper's continuing investigation showed, however, that such activity indeed had been going on since Brown's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination failed earlier this year and that it has not been limited to "a rather low level" in his office as the governor's senior aides insisted. In one instance, the cover letter for a report sent to top Brown contributors at state expense has been edited in the California governor's own handwriting.

After continually denying any wrongdoing, Gray Davis (Brown's chief of staff) last week announced "extraordinary steps" to ensure that state workers and facilities are employed "totally within the law and above suspicion."

The correspondent unit in Governor Brown's office no longer will perform political tasks, Mr. Davis promised, and the state computer's memory will be "purged" of lists of Brown supporters and contributors. The state attorney general will be consulted on any further activities that could be interpreted as presenting a conflict of interest.

As for past political activities in the governor's office, Davis says the state will be reimbursed from campaign funds for the time state employees spent working on the lists.

But that presents another problem, since the federal government may be first in line for remaining funds in Brown's political coffers. The governor has 30 days to show the Federal Election Commission why he should not have to repay Uncle Sam $72,036 in campaign expenditures that may not have been properly accounted for. If he does not successfully plead his case, Brown will have two months to repay the money.

Brown's popularity rating in California has crept back up to a more respectable level since the month he abandoned his White House quest. When the presidential primary race began officially last February, only 22 percent of Californians sampled by Mervin Field's California Poll thought the governor was doing a "good" or "excellent" job. That figure was up to 32 percent in October.

Brown has spent considerable time in recent months in establishing more harmonious relations with those he has often scorned, among them state legislators, members of the California congressional delegation, and other established political powers outside the state. The remnants of his campaign organization in Los Angeles recently began publishing a slick magazine to keep supporters and contributors abreast of his ideas and activities.

While not ruling out the possibility, Brown does not seem to be leaning toward a third run for governor two years from now. A more probable (although admittedly more risky) course would be for him to seek the US Senate seat of S. I. Hayakawa in 1982. Supporters point out that after six years in Washington, Jerry Brown, at just 50 years of age, would be in much better position (both in experience and national perception) for the 1988 presidential election.

The more immediate task, however, is to reestablish his reputation as one who recognizes the fine ethical line between running state government and building a national political organization.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.